A/N...

1... To our anonymous reviewer...noted and corrected.

2...This story (Firefly Season 1) will a hypothetical continuation of the first season of the show, (Seven additional episodes) had the show not been canceled. Each "episode" will be presented in two or more (up to four) "chapters" (updates). The time period of this story will span the time from immediately after the last actual Firefly episode (Objects in Space), until just before the movie Serenity.

After this story is complete (Seven episodes, perhaps up to twenty eight chapters), I will do "Firefly Season 2".

"Firefly Season 2" will be twenty nine episodes, like a full second season (possibly up to 116 chapters). The time period will be from the opening scenes of the movie "Serenity" (The part where the ship "Serenity" first appears on the screen, not young river at school and her escape from the Academy) and the last chapter will end right where the movie ended.

While to say that this next story will be a re-telling of the movie "Serenity," may be partially true, it is far from accurate. All the events that took place in the movie will take place in the story, the Lilac bank job, the Maidenhead incident, Mr. Universe, Miranda, River's final battle with the Reavers, etc...and in the same chronological order, but there will be much more than that. These events will unfold over the course of 29 episodes (29 hours if it were a real show, as apposed to crammed into a 2 hr. movie) with much more depth and detail, along with various other adventures along the way.

Much more will be explained, like why did River wander into the Maidenhead, all alone? Why wasn't Simon with her? How did Mal get hooked up with Fanty and Mingo?.. What happened to Badger? Why weren't the blue hand guys in the movie? What became of them? ...just for a few examples.

On the matter of Wash and Book, I haven't decided yet if they will survive or not, this time around, but that's a long time from now. Plenty of time to decide.

When completed, the movie will be as a very brief summation of the story, with at least 75% of the content left out.

After season 2 is complete I intend to do a season 3 (set after the movie), but that will be a long time in coming.

While these first two stories are an adaptation of a story that can be found at Virtual Firefly (presented in script format), much of the content will be of my own inspiration, even more so as the story progresses. The third season story will be entirely of my own creation.

I am using the first two stories as a "training exercise," (and hopefully present an enjoyable story in the process) to become comfortable with writing about the Firefly characters. "Training wheels" if you will. As this is a learning experience, reviews and constructive criticism is most welcome.

3...Disclaimer: The crew of the Serenity, the 'Verse in which they live, and their fellow inhabitants are the property of Joss Whedon, Universal Studios, and/or Fox Television. They are used in this work of fan fiction with love and respect, but without permission.


.

.

The Big Stick (Part one)

.

Shepherd Derrial Book's Calm and reassuring voice echoed through the converted Town Hall, to the assembled Congregation….

…"When you give to someone, don't tell your left hand what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in secret, and your Father, who knows all secrets, will reward you… Amen."...

In the front pew sat the Lord Governor, dressed in his Sunday finest, surrounded by various other members of the Upper Crust, also dressed in their best Sunday Go To Meeting attire. They sat at full attention, as they listened to the Shepherd's sermon, but with a look of total boredom. An occasional "smack" could be heard as they discipline one of their equally bored and fidgeting children.

In the makeshift pews, behind the Socially Elite, sat the Common Folk; dressed in whatever they had, from ill fitting hand me down suits, that had seen better days, to coveralls, jeans, T-shirts, bib overalls and worn steel toed work boots.

The toll paid from years of hard backbreaking labor, in an attempt to eek out a life for themselves and their families, under unbearable conditions, was clearly evident from their rough cut features and leathery skinned faces. Despite the look of ill health and worn out hollow facial features, of a lot of the congregation, there was a look of peace, serenity and hope in their eyes, as they listened to Book's reassuring words, on this weekly day of rest from their labors.

Shepherd Book concluded his sermon with….

… "And now let us consider our Lord's words, as we sing the next hymn and take a collection for those less fortunate than ourselves."…..

He led the assembly in "What a Friend we have Jesus," accompanied by a badly out of tune piano, as the ushers passed a collection plate starting at the front pews.

The Lord Governor stood up and reached deep into a pocket pulling out a single but quite large gold coin. He stood up and while glancing around the congregation, with his best paste on church smile, plunked it onto the plate with an audible clunk. He sat back down, with a slight grimace and look of disdain creeping over his features. The rest of the more fortunate begrudgingly followed suit.

As the plate worked it's way back to the less fortunate, they each contributed what they could spare, somewhat more silently but with a more sincere smile.

They continued to sing; the governor and his lackeys, in a stone faced, precise and well rehearsed manor, while the regular folk sang along from their hymnals. While they may have struggled slightly, as some could barley read the words, they sang with sincere joy.

The melody drifted out through the near deserted and silent streets, on a peaceful Sunday morning. Those not given to religiosity could be seen lazily sitting around on porches, in the scant shade of the few struggling trees or just gathered around in small groups, sipping on beer, engaged in idle chit chat.

Out on the outskirts of town, sat a Firefly class Midbulk Transport, looking somewhat like a giant bulbous bird. Under its long outstretched neck, the cargo bay/airlock ramp was down. From its hold another type of music drifted out over the arid rocky terrain. It was slightly different and a bit out of place for this backwater moon. It sounded much more like what something one might expect to hear at a grand ballroom, on one of the more "Refined" Core Worlds.

Inside the cargo hold, Simon Tam, ships doctor for the firefly class ship Serenity, was attempting, a bit awkwardly, to teach Kaywinnit Lee "Kaylee" Frye, ship's mechanic, a classical waltz, as the music played from a futuristic DVD player.

Nearby, a pair of slightly oversized looking boots scuffled across the cargo bay floor, as Dr. Tam's teenage sister, River, danced and twirled around in a knee length, colorful grandma style dress, with an invisible dance partner, mimicking her older brother and Kaylee.

… "No, wait. your….."

A grimace shot across Simon's face, as Kaylee backed away slightly, with her hand going up to her mouth saying…..

…. "That was your foot…. wasn't it?"…..

He nodded silently with a look of frustration, as Kaylee started to look a bit defensive. River halted her dance, slightly off balance and looked on with a look of worried concern, as she sensed her brother slipping back into "boob mode."

The tension mounted for a second, then a slight smile cracked Simon's stone face. They both burst out in laughter and fell into each other. A happy look returned to River as she went back to waltzing around the cargo bay, with her unseen prince charming.

Kaylee began to apologize as Malcolm Reynolds, Serenity's owner and captain, along with Jayne Cobb their hired muscle. came breathlessly up the ramp lugging large canvas bags. Zoe Washburne, first mate, came up from behind, watching their backs. Mal and Jayne were clearly in good spirits whilst Zoe was serious and watchful as always.

Simon and Kaylee's attention was immediately diverted to them as River continued to dance around the room, like some time displaced Cinderella in combat boots.

… "How'd it go. Cap'n?"… Kaylee beamed with a cheerful smile.

Mal returned her smile, shucked his bags, headed over to Simon and clasped his shoulder, commenting…..

…. "Your plan worked perfect, Doctor"….

…. "It wasn't a plan, Captain. It was a joke"… Simon pointed out, a bit uncomfortably, while looking down slightly and thoughtfully rubbing the back of his neck.

… "Still doc"… Jayne interjected…

... "If I didn't know better, I'd think you was some sorta criminal genius rather' na dandified pretty-boy"…

…. "Jayne!"… Kaylee shot back at him in a reprimanding tone, while Hoban "Wash" Washburne, pilot and Zoe Washburne's significant other, came down the stairs from the kitchen, sporting a pair of baggy khaki pants and gaudy Hawaiian shirt.

…. "What?"… Jayne inquired, in response to Kaylee's scolding, with a puzzled look….

..."Said he was pretty, didn't I?"…he pointed out with a shrug of his shoulders.

Kaylee tossed her hands up slightly in resignation, while letting out a sigh and rolling her eyes.

Zoe set her bags down and walked over to Wash while Simon commented….

… "Captain, I really don't think Shepherd Book would be happy to know….."

Mal cut him off in mid sentence with….

…."What Shepherd don't know won't hurt him"….

… "Sides, good book says the lord helps them as helps 'emselves"…. Jayne interjected

…. "No, it doesn't"… River commented offhandedly from across the room, while continuing her Waltz. She stopped dancing and added in a slightly more serious tone…

… "I checked"…

Her words were ignored and before Simon could protest further, Wash broke his embrace with Zoe and inquired while flaying his arms out dramatically…..

…. "Did we get the goods?…. will someone please tell me we got the goods!"…..

… "We certainly got the goods, sweetie"… Zoe answered, while snuggling up to him.

… "And then some!"…. Jayne added, as he dropped his bags to the floor and dug through one. After a moment he pulled out the prize and held it high for all to see, with a big toothy "Jayne Cobb grin."….

Grapes… fresh, beautiful and succulent.

Kaylee's mouth dropped open as her eyes went to wide saucers. All her hostilities toward him, over his previous rude comment to Simon, vanished from her mind in that instant.

River's dance came to an abrupt halt, as an impish grin replaced her former blank expression and before Jayne could react, they were both on him like "ducks on a june bug."

…. "Forbidden fruit!"… River squealed happily, as she deftly snatched a fistful from the cluster Jayne was holding. He recoiled slightly at her assault on him, but figured that while she was loonier than a bed bug and just as annoying, as long as she didn't have a gun or any sharp objects she was harmless.

Walsh continued on with more dramatics…..

….. "We have food!…fresh food!… Lord does help those who help themselves!"…..

Kaylee took a few grapes and wandered back toward Simon and Mal, who seemed to be in a quiet discussion, Simon appearing to be a bit displeased….

…. "Look son, it's better this way. Don't have to draw guns." ...Mal explained to a still somewhat indignant Simon…..

... "No risk o' hurt to nobody." …. Mal added as he walked away indicating the subject was officially closed, while Kaylee popped a grape into his mouth, with a sweet smile.

River, with a mouthful of grapes, continued hovering close to Jayne and the rest of the "forbidden fruit," chewing noisily, when the music abruptly changed.

Walsh had adjusted the music player to a jauntier tune. He held his hand out to Zoe who moved toward him. They swayed together to the music, more hugging than dancing actually.

Kaylee grabbed Simon and they joined in, Kaylee leading with Simon awkwardly but enthusiastically attempting to follow the tune. This music was her world, not his. Now he was on her home turf.

River looked around excitedly, remembering the last time she heard this style of music, the new dance steps she picked up and how much fun she had had, before getting kidnapped and nearly burned at the stake, that is.

A slight look of disappointment came over her as she realized that she was alone and not really a part of the festivities. She brightened back up, however and a mischievous little grin lit up her face when she glanced over to Jayne, also alone, picking his teeth after hurriedly "polishing off" the rest of the grapes, to prevent River from stealing anymore.

The hairs on the back of his neck stood up slightly, as he felt her stare burning through him. He reciprocate by giving her the best "get lost and go pester some bounty hunter" glare he could conjure up and wondered what kind of mischief she had up her sleeve now. He was not kept in suspense for long.

River suddenly clutched her dress, whipping it around, as she gaily danced and clomped around him. Grabbing him by his wrist, she yanked him out into the center of the bay, "Sadie Hawkins" style, where she continued her lively jaunt.

His first instinct, after recovering from the initial shock, was to give her a swift backhand knocking her on her ass, but quickly dismissed that idea as he was sure that would get him into very hot water with the rest of the crew, as she wasn't armed with anything more dangerous than an irritating personality, not to mention that Mal had seemed to have taken a bit of a shine to her, after an incident with a bounty hunter that had invaded their ship, about a week prior.

What shocked him the most, however, was how a bratty little, not to mention insane, Core girl could dance as well as she could.

Jayne Cobb was, among other things, a ladies man. He could out drink, out charm and out dance any whore in the verse, if he wanted to. He took pride in that fact and there was no way in hell he could let that prissy core Doctor's loony little sister show him up on the dance floor. His pride simply would not allow it.

Very begrudgingly he took her up on her offer, as they cavorted around the cargo bay together in a wild wheeling jig.

The Captain stood back by the stairs leading up to the upper decks, surveying the scene before him…..

Zoe and Wash, snuggled up to each other, oblivious to the tempo of the music and everything else around them, for that matter, as they slowly made there way around the makeshift "ballroom," just enjoying the moment…. undoubtedly whispering sickening sweet little nothings to each other…..

…Kaylee leading Simon clumsily around the room tripping over his own feet, at least he wasn't planting them in his mouth, as he was sheepishly smiling back to Kaylee, when he wasn't casting a venomous glare toward his sister and the big mercenary…

…..Jayne wildly clomping around with River, a look of total agony on his face as he swung her about; River looking as though she was having the time of her life, as she twirled around, undoubtedly from knowing full well, how much she was tormenting the former.

Mal breathed deep for a moment, folded his hands behind his neck with a satisfied smile on his face, as he took in the somewhat comical spectacle. All was right with the verse. This was his ship, his crew,….. his family.

It was a good day for Malcolm Reynolds.


"Dance it up while you can folks."…. Mal hollered out to his frolicking crew, over the sound of fiddles, flutes and drums… "I wanna be off this rock soon as Shepherd's back. Wouldn't do for his majesty the Lord Governor to wander home from a very fine sermon, to find out what we done to his greenhouse…. Not to mention his safe." … he added, casually.

As he was about to turn and head up the stairs, Wash and Zoe came gliding past. Wash tears his attention away from Zoe for a moment and mentions, offhandedly…..

…. "Wave came from an old friend while you were out Mal"…and as the couple drifted away he raised his head again and added, a bit more emphatically…..

… "Sounded urgent"…

Mal nodded in affirmation, as Zoe and Wash slipped away. He turned and started up the stairs and glanced back, one more time, to take in the rare sight of his crew just enjoying themselves, or almost all that is. A slight grin of amusement came over him, as he thought of poor Jayne, in the clutches of their resident psychic/lunatic.

He turned his head back around just in time, to avoid crashing headlong into Inara. A world of tense awkwardness filled the air, as they stand staring at each other, for what seemed to the both of them an eternity….. Finally…..

…. "Mal"…

…. "Uh… Inara"…

He held a hand out to her, with a single grape and offered.. meekly..

… "Grape?"….

She took the offered grape, smiled…. kind of…..and moved on past in silence.

The expression on Mal's face went from "things couldn't possible be better" to a not so slight look of confusion, with just a pinch of melancholia. Why couldn't he ever say the right thing around her? Why did she always confuse him? he wondered. He was starting to wonder if perhaps he had been spending to much time around Dr. Tam. He sighed and continued on up the stairs, but with a marked reduction in vigor.

Down on the dance floor, Zoe gave Wash a quick peck on the cheek, as she abruptly excused herself, leaving him scratching his head, with a dumbfounded look on his face. Before he could even start to theorize on the reason for her sudden departure, however, his attention was drawn to River and Jayne. He watched the new couple in astonished amazement. Jayne was defiantly starting to look all the worst for the wear, as he tried to keep up with the little wisp of a girl, that seemed to posses the energy of a super nova.

Mal made his way up the final set of stairs, leading to the bridge. He paused for a moment at the doorway gazing around the empty bridge, lost in thought. His day had taken a slight turn for the worse. Things wern't near as shinny as they were before.

He shook his head slightly with a sigh and started for the pilot's station to access the Cortex.

…. "Sir?"…

Mal turned back around, leaned against the doorframe slightly to face Zoe, who was just a few steps behind him with a look of mild concern on her face.

…. "It's nothin'…. It's just…."

Zoe continued to stare at him…expressionlessly….. waiting

Mal knew that it was pointless to hide the fact that he was troubled about something. It was like she could see right through him and knew that she was not leaving until she got an answer. He wondered if maybe she'd been hanging around River to much.

…. "We been runnin' on too little coin an' too much trouble for far too long now"…..

Zoe gave a slight nod of affirmation along with an "I'll accept that for now sir" look and added….

…. "We sell the Lassiter, that'll solve half the problem, sir"…

Mal ran his hand through his hair, as he came back with….

…. "Way folks been shyin' away from us, as of late, that don't look to be happenin' any time soon."….

Zoe gave a slight "true enough" nod, as he continued on….

….. "Truth is, we took more green than gold on this job. This keeps up I'm like to call Badger….. see what he got."…

… "Sir, is that really such a good idea?"…. Zoe questioned skeptically.

Mal just returned a bright "devil-may-care" smile and turned back toward the pilot's station …. changing the subject…

…. "Best I check that wave, might be Blue Sun telling' me I won their big lottery."….

….. "Didn't think you gambled sir"…. She commented…

He just smiled back, indicating that the discussion was over. She turned and left, as he plopped down into the pilot's seat, fiddled with a few dials and brought up a wave. On one of the screens an image of Bernabe materialized.

He was considerably younger than Mal, about mid thirties or so, somewhat heavier, a bit shaggier of main, but considerably less world weary. All in all though, they could probably have passed as brothers…. or at least cousins.

… "Bernabe, how ya been?"….

… "Mal! Been a dog's age since we've seen you around here."…

… "Now, wait now. Dogs on your world have shortened life spans?"…. Mal commented in his usual cocky manor. He leaned back and folded his hands behind his neck. It was good to hear from an old friend…. especially after the events of the last ten minuets.

..."Maybe. Maybe so. Maybe we all do"…. Bernabe returned with a light hearted chuckle. He paused for a moment as his expression turned a bit more serious and continued on…..

….. "Could use your help, Mal. Have a job need's doing. Don't pay much at all, but I can promise three squares to you and your's, as long as you like. Whenever you like."….

Mal took a breath, scratched his head thoughtfully for a moment before explaining, in a sincere but doubtful tone…

…. "You know I'd love to help you out,….but I got more'n just mouths to feed, I…"

Bernabe continued on, not giving Mal a chance to finish. A slight imploring look came over him…

…. "Haven's pretty far out in the black Mal, I know, but it seems every day there's more trouble headed this way. Rumors of Reavers, pirates… Now slavers. Word is they hit Caridad last week."….

Now he was concerned, and a bit more doubtful of Bernabe's proposition. Mal straightened up in his seat and explained in a skeptical tone….

…. "Caridad? That ain't but a few moons away from you. Me and my crew, we ain't got but a few light arms, were not really set up for…."

Bernabe again cut him off with….

…. "Ain't lookin' for you to fight for us, Mal. We just need pick-up an' delivery of somethin' damned sight bigger'n a few pistols. A big stick to knock them birds right outta the sky."…..

With a slight sigh of relief, Mal leaned back again into the seat and asked, still somewhat guarded…

…."Where's the pick-up?"….

…. "Fort Liberty."… Bernabe responds nonchalantly…

…. "Fort Liberty!"….Mal grimaces to himself…. "A heavily fortified Alliance military base!….He may be an old friend and I wish I could help him, but this is.. is…. no… no"… He mentally grasped at straws, to come up with a graceful way out of this and then it hits him…and it's also the truth….

…. "Fort Liberty's more'n two days burn behind me. I don't know if I even have enough fuel"...

…. "Mal. You make it here, we'll fuel you up free. Before and after."….. Bernabe cut him off

The thought of free fuel, after the job was done, as an extra bonus, did brighten things up a bit, but still…. An Alliance military outpost was not on Mal's list of places he would most like to visit.

The "Two Most Wanted" would defiantly have to stay behind on Haven, but if this were to be a simple pick up and delivery, he figured the good doctors services might not be required and if he were not actually along on the job, he wouldn't have to pay him either…another plus.

Also, while having a reader onboard could be an advantage, they had always done just fine…. well ok anyway, prior to the revelation of her talents, not to mention that her being around that many feds would, more likely than not, send her off onto one of her "episodes," nullifying said talents, so no big loss there either.

Jayne, however, was a different matter all together.

Mal was fairly certain he could be trusted under normal circumstances, after their little "heart to heart" talk following the Ariel job. With that many feds around however and potential opportunities for him to set something up, especially on a job that didn't look to pay squat, he figured that it might be best for all concerned not to subject him to that much temptation. He would have to remain behind as well.

The whole thing was starting to sound like a recipe for all manor of ugliness.

…."I don't know, Bernabe."….. Mal responded, his reluctance clearly evident. He grasped at his last remaining straw, in a final attempt to bow out gracefully.

…. "I got a passenger with an awful urgent need to go in the opposite direction and….."

…. "Captain? Do you have a clearer idea of when we'll be arriving at New Melbourne? I need to….."

Mal looked back behind him suddenly, a bit startled and noticed that Inara had just entered the cockpit.

…. "Oh. I'm sorry. I didn't realize you were on a call."….She quickly apologized, with a hint of awkwardness.

….. "No worries, Inara."… he responded, then offered her a tight smile before going on to explain….

…. "But I'm sorry to say we won't be at New Melbourne for a while yet. Just got a job going t'other way."….

The look on Inara's face clearly indicated that she was not happy with the news, but there was also not the slightest indication that she was at all surprised.

…. "Of course you did."…. She sighed, with a roll of her eyes

…. "Business is business."…. Mal explained, with a shrug of his shoulders, as he turned back to the Cortex with newfound enthusiasm, leaving Inara to glare at his back.

….. "Get that fuel ready. We'll be seein' you soon"… Mal cheerfully told Bernabe, as Inara huffed out of the bridge.

Mal's image on the Cortex blinked out and Bernabe scratched his head wondering what it was, that he said, that caused Mal to have such a sudden and drastic change of heart. Whatever it was, he figured it wasn't all that important, after all, beggars couldn't be choosers.


.

Serenity cruised slowly over Haven's wide dusty main street, named as such more by virtue of being Haven's only street. The name street was in itself a misnomer, as in actuality it was nothing more than a broad concourse, lined by a haphazard conglomeration of dirty, low roofed buildings.

It was on the second moon of Deadwood (Seventh planet of the Quing Long-Burnham System), small yet somewhat comfortable and prosperous, by Rim World standards. There was plenty of work, for those willing to work, as evidenced by the numerous head frames, ore crushers and ball mills, surrounding this tiny mining colony.

The ship lazily continued on toward a large open area, past a "bone yard" littered with various types of retired mining equipment, of all shapes and sizes, from piles of old wore out Jack Leg drills, to gargantuan dump trucks, rusting away on weather cracked dry rotting tires.

A group of young children excitedly chased after it and stood back and watched, as Serenity's twin thrusters angled downward, kicking up huge swirling clouds of dust as it gently settled to the ground.

Inside the ship was a hubbub of activity, as her crew made final preparations for a log awaited albeit brief shore leave.

Walsh sat in his seat doing final shutdown checks, while Kaylee was doing the same in the engine room.

Shepherd Book was in his quarters offering prayers, while Simon went about preparing inoculations for the crew, with Inara acting as his assistant.

Jayne was in his bunk, going over his weapons collection. A pronounced scowl on his face, as he had been informed that he had been assigned "Tam sitting" duty here on Haven, while the rest go do the job at Fort Liberty. He knew that he would probably not need to be too heavily armed, but being separated from his "girls" would be hard on him and he was trying to decide which ones to take along. He knew that the Captain would take a dim view of him taking them all.

River stood in her room, mumbling to herself, after filling a small sack with a few changes of clothing and a few other incidentals, with a look of confusion on her face. She seemed to be caught in a hopeless quandary over whether or not she should wear her boots or stick them in the sack with the rest of her clothes and remain barefooted.

Mal was briskly making his rounds doing Captainy things, with Zoe trailing after him, expressing her concerns and possible risks of the upcoming job, to Mal's deaf ears.


.

Bernabe and a half dozen folk were there to greet Wash and Zoe, as they strode down the ramp.

…. "Zoe! Wash!"… Bernabe cried out, before exchanging a vigorous handshake with Wash, that quickly turned into a heartfelt embrace, after which he turned to Zoe, giving her a big hug. The others also offer greetings, in a way that indicated that they too were familiar with the crew of Serenity.

…. "It's good to see you, Bernabe. Been far too long."…

….. "You're more radiant than memory allows, Zoe."… Bernabe returned, while kneeling down and kissing her hand.

…. "Ah, husband… husband…..standing right here!"… Wash cut in, with a mock look of offence, after which Bernabe sprang back up with a laugh, giving him a friendly punch on the shoulder.

…. "What about your missus? Mildred around?"….. Zoe inquired of Bernabe.

…. "Been gone near a week."… he responded with a shake of his head…

..."Took a supply run and blew out her engine on Beaumonde. Otherwise we wouldn't have called on you folks. She's got the kids with her, and is probably just this side of crazy right now."….

…. "Kids?"… Zoe inquired, with a raised eyebrow

…. "As in multiple?"… Wash clarified...

…. "Got us a little girl now too…..Tess."…. He proudly stated and added….

…. "I've got captures."…. as he dug into a pocket, producing them, to share with Zoe and Wash.

Jayne came strolling down the ramp, scowling at the crowd, a bag slung over one shoulder with Vera strapped to the other. Mal and Simon, followed a few paces behind him.

…. "Captain, I understand River and me, but"…. Simon paused and grimaced, as Jayne, very loudly, hocked up a "lugi" and spat…

…. "Why does he have to stay?"….

…. "Like I told you, doctor, Fort Liberty's an Alliance military outpost. After Jayne's uncharacteristic heroics on your behalf on Ariel, could be he's every bit as wanted."…..

The three continued on down the ramp, with Jayne in the lead, trying his best to look as intimidating as possible. Mal further explained to Simon….

…. "Folks here are afraid. Might make 'em happier to have an extra gun around. And folks come to Haven for lots of different reasons. Bernabe"…. Mal pointed over to his old friend, who was talking animatedly with Zoe and Wash, as they stopped, while Jayne continued wandering off into the crowd.

…. "He's a good man, fought on the right side in the war. But some here ain't hidin' on account of they're all sugar and nicety inside. Could be you'll be more'n happy to have Jayne along."….

Simon gave him his best "That will be the day" look, but resigned himself to the current situation.

…. "And we can trust him now."…..

They both jump as River came stealthily up behind them, with Kaylee tagging along. She looked to Simon, dressed in a gown, looking something like what might have been worn by Morticia from the "Adams Family," with a sack flung over one shoulder and her boots, tied together by the buckle straps, hanging over the other.

… "Cried wolf… the wolf came. Doesn't want to get bit again."….

Mal ignored River's little speech and turned to Kaylee….

…. "You get us fueled up quick, okay? We got us a schedule to keep."….. While River continued on to Simon, slightly less cryptically….

…. "He doesn't want to buy more apples."…

Kaylee nodded in affirmation to Mal, as he walked off, with River happily skipping along after him, leaving Kaylee and Simon alone. There was an awkward moment of silence between them. Simon scratched the back of his neck nervously, while gazing slightly to the ground. Then….

…. "So"...

Kaylee, with her hands folded behind her back and a bright smile responded in kind….

…. "So"...

Not sure as what to say, Simon came up with….

…. "Well, uh…have fun with the….crime…on Fort Liberty."….

Kaylee laughed and reassured him with…..

….. "Oh, I don't know if it counts as crime this time. Sounds more like a simple pick-up job."….

…. "Still… Be careful."…

Kaylee, responded, in a softer tone…

…. "You, too."….

Simon gazed at her radiant smiling face, swallowed and took a step closer to kiss her, but she quickly leaned in and gave him a near-sisterly peck on the cheek. Before he could embrace her, she suddenly pulled away. Simon wiped his hands on his vest, not knowing what else to do with them.

As Kaylee backed away, she gave him a quick little smile and wave saying….

…. "You take care of your sister, Simon…..Gotta go. Fuel the ship up."…

And with that, she too turned and disappeared off into the crowd, leaving Simon with a rather dumbfounded look on his face.


.

Mal made his way over to Bernabe, while River had become engrossed in trying to catch a small lizard, that she was presently chasing through the nearby brush.

The two men shook hands. Bernabe waved in the general direction of Kaylee, who was at the bottom of the ramp, talking to the locals.

…. "That the new mechanic? She's a damned sight prettier'n that mechanical genius you had last time you set down on Haven. That boy mucked up our filtration system so bad we had to shut down operations for two days."…..

….. "Yeah. She's somethin' special, that girl."…. Mal acknowledged, while casting an admiring glance in her direction, then added offhandedly… "Keeps me sane."

…. "So who's the one drives you t'other way?"… Bernabe added with a slight chuckle.

A pensive look came over Mal's face for a moment, as he noticed Inara and Shepherd Book, in the distance, coming down Serenity's Ramp, to join the festivities and introduce themselves to folks. He remained silent and the two of them stood there in companionable silence, for a moment, as they watched the crew of Serenity and the citizens of Haven mingle.

Mal finally, without taking his eyes off his crew, piped up with…

… "So… it's just a simple pick-up you need, right?"…. and after a second or two, of uncomfortable silence, he sighed, shook his head slightly and added…. with a hint of skepticism in his voice…

…. "It's never simple."…

… "Not that complicated"…. Bernabe countered, also without taking his eyes off the crowd of townfolk and sensing Mal's uneasiness….

… "Fill me in."… Mal came back, sounding a bit more skeptical.

The two men continued to stand next to one another, watching their people, in silence that was a bit more uncomfortable than before. This time Bernabe made the first move…..

… "There's a man on Fort Liberty, Bennett Hicks, a thief by trade, wants to start over fresh. He's contacted us a few times before, but I've been reluctant to let him come in…"

…"Because he might bring Alliance attention."…. Mal quickly supplied for him.

… "Exactly."… Bernabe confirmed, then explained further… "But it turns out he can give us what we need, in exchange for a fresh start. Says he has an inside man with the Alliance."….

… "You trust him?"… Mal queried

… "Remember the part where he's a thief?"… Bernabe reminded him with a slight chuckle.

… "So what do you want from me?"… Mal inquired evenly.

Bernabe turned away from crowd, to look at Mal for the first time and stated honestly…..

…. "Your instincts, more'n anything. I didn't serve with you and Zoe, but I heard the stories."…. He paused for a moment, put a hand to Mal's shoulder and continued on with sincerity….

… "I trust you, Mal. What we need here at Haven's somethin' to keep us safe. If it ain't the slavers this week, it'll be Reavers the next. We need to be able to swat them bastards right down."…

… "You'll get your big stick, Bernabe."… He assured him, with a broad smile… "Now where's those three squares you promised? I got me a powerful hungry crew"…


.

Serenity silently slipped through the boundless expanse of the black. Kaylee made herself at home among the lush furnishings, in the Companion's shuttle, while Inara prepared a pot of tea for the both of them.

… "Everything alright"…. Inara asked, as she sensed a "deeper reason" for Kaylee's visit….. beyond just friendly conversation.

Kaylee hesitated for a moment, then "fessed up."

… "I have a problem, 'Nara."….

She was obviously troubled and you didn't need to be a trained Companion or a Reader to tell. After another short, uncomfortable, pause she came out with it…

… "A Simon problem"….

Inara glanced up from the tea and gave her a look, indicating that she should proceed.

… "You might've noticed that Simon and me, we've been getting closer, recently."….

Inara smiled and admitted….

… "I did. I've also noticed that planets seem to spin and gravity tends to hold things down."…

Despite herself, Kaylee laughed, then resumed her serious demeanor and continued…..

…"I don't want to speak for Simon….. I never know what's going on in that boy's head"...

…. "That's because he's a boy"….. Inara interjected calmly

…. "But I'm thinking that he wants to move things in a more….. intimate direction."….. Inara handed Kaylee her tea, sat down across from her and began, with a composed smile…..

… "Kaylee, I'm fairly certain you don't need my advice. But if you ask nicely, I might be swayed into parting with a companion trade secret or two that would make the good doctor's toes curl."…..

… "That's not it, Inara."…. Kalee clarified, paused momentarily and explained…

… "I don't want to."….

Inara blinked, slightly mystified ….

…. "But I thought… ?"

…. "Oh ya, I did"… Kaylee quickly pointed out, then went on to explain…

…"But I just… After that bounty hunter, I don't feel right inside."….

A look of concern and empathy crept over Inara's face, as she queried…

…. "He didn't…"

…. "Oh no!… it's not like that."…. Kaylee emphatically corrected, knowing what Inara was suspecting…

…."He didn't lay a hand on me, 'Nara. But he could've. He could've so easy. And I just haven't felt right since."…..

Inara took a sip of her tea, with a contemplative look, then…..

…. "Jubal Early might not have touched you physically, but he touched you mentally, emotionally. It's still assault. He made you feel unsafe in your home, here on Serenity."….

Kaylee brightened up slightly as she realized that Inara knew exactly what she was going through…

… "Right. I just don't feel safe. And I don't know how open I can be with Simon. I just feel so stupid."…..

… "Honey, there's nothing to feel stupid about." …. Inara assured her. She leaned over and put a comforting hand on her arm and explained….

…. "What you're feeling is perfectly natural. Simon is a good man. He'll wait. And when the time is right, it will be right, for both of you"…..

Kaylee took a drink of her tea with a relieved look….

…. "Thanks, 'Nara. I'm just glad I have you here to talk to. I don't know what I'd do without you."….

Inara tensed slightly, but remained silent. She took a long drink of her tea instead, with a somewhat pensive air about her. Finally, Kaylee chirped up with….

… "So what's going on with you and the Captain these days? I've been sort of noticing a… vibe"….

… "There's no vibe"….. Irara stated flatly

… "Wash says he thinks there's more looks between the two of you these days"…. Kaylee continued on, not picking up on the uneasiness creeping into Inara's demeanor.

…. "There are no looks! There's no vibe!"…. Inara categorically stated, as she bolted up from her seat, went over, in a huff and poured herself another cup of tea. After a moment, after her composure had returned, she turned back to Kaylee with her normal gracious smile….

…. "More tea?"….


Zoe and Captain Reynolds stood behind Wash, as he piloted Serenity down through and out of a low cloud layer, bringing Fort Liberty into view.

It was a small, tight looking walled city built up against the side of a low mountain. Filled with sharp-edged, institutional-looking buildings, the place was certainly no Persephone, but was still much more civilized than most of the other places that Serenity frequented.

All in all, it had the feel of an industrial complex that sprang up to service a military outpost, which is exactly what it was. Giant mounted cannons, with barrels ten meters long, dotted the wall surrounding the city, each cannon manned by a uniformed soldier. As a precautionary measure, on the Alliance's part, as Serenity flew in, one of the cannons tracked the ship.

After settling down onto their assigned landing pad, Wash commented, while going through his shutdown procedure…

… "Ah, yes. Beautiful, scenic, downtown Fort Liberty. Where you can get arrested for breathing."….

… "Then maybe you should keep your mouth shut, honey."… Zoe commented, but with her special "reserved for Wash smile."

… "Look, I'm just saying, Alliance military outpost, us… crooks… Is this really the best plan ever?"… Wash retorted with more than a hint of exasperation.

… "I'll get our man Hicks, he'll tell us where the package is, we'll get it, and be out of the world again and back to Haven in time for dinner. Simple."…. Mal explained nonchalantly, to nobody in particular.

… "I do like dinner at Haven. Mildred makes a great shepherd's pie…." Wash commented, to take his mind off the present situation

… "I'm sure that's exactly how it'll work out, sir."…. Zoe commented to Mal, mostly ignoring Wash's comment.

"…..even though I don't think she uses real shepherd in it. Still, we better keep an eye on Book."….. Wash continued on, injecting a spot of humor into the situation.

…. "In and out, Zoe. No problems."… Mal casually explained to Zoe, as he smartly turned and headed off the bridge.

…. "Want to pick up your lottery winnings while you're in town, too, sir?"….. Zoe queried after him, with a slight smirk as he was leaving.

. He simply waved his hands in the air slightly, without looking back or speaking, as he strode down the hallway and out of sight.


.

Mal, squired Inara through the busy, early evening crowd, careful not to make eye contact with anyone. It was just after shift change at the base and the street was fairly crowded, consisting mainly of laborers and off duty military personnel and of all things….they're in mid-argument.

"…. am I gonna get you to New Melbourne? Oh, I don't know. Maybe the day after you finally 'fess up to the crew that you're leaving."… Mal went on

…. "I'll tell them when I'm ready. When they're ready."…Inara snapped back at him.

… "Seems to me that would be about three weeks after I drop you off, rate you're going!"…. Mal shot back, as he glanced downward to hide his face, from an approaching group of what appeared to be high ranking Alliance officers.

… "Which will be long after River is older and grayer than Shepherd Book, at the rate you're going!"…. Inara huffed back at him, as they continued on through the bustling crowd, more than a few of which had startined to notice of their little "discussion."

… "At least I'm not living a lie!"…..

… "No, you just don't tell people what they need to know!"….

… "Just like you! but I didn't have to go to whore school to learn how!"…..

Inara was prepariring a comeback, with something about "petty thieves," when they both noticed they had gathered an audience.

Mal granced around the crowd with a tight lipped smile and suggested to Inara, out of the corner of his mouth…..

… "Maybe we should save this discussion until we're back on the ship."….

Inara nodded cordially to their new found "fans," her demeanor full of "move along, nothing to see here" and responded to Mal's little suggestion, discreetly with…

… "You've certainly had worse ideas."….

Mal, however, was now oblivious to the dispersing crowd and simply said…

… "We're here"…

He was looking ahead to a large gaudy multi colored sign that said, between it's blaring flashes, surprisingly enough….

…. BAR….


.

Mal and Inara stood in the doorway and surveyed the scene before them.

It was dimly lit, smokey and crowed with a large fan hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the room, slowly revolving in a futile attempt to circulate the thick stuffy air. All in all, it had the look of what you might imagine of some seedy, early twentieth century waterfront dive, back in old Earth-That-Was Shanghai or Singapore.

Unlike the street outside, no one here seemed to be wearing military uniforms, most likely because it had probably been posted as off limits, to the fine upstanding Alliance personnel.

… "Looks like your kind of place"…. Inara mentioned as she glanced around the hazy den of iniquity.

Before Mal could conjur up a comeback, Inara motioned discreetly toward the far end of the bar…. saying in a hushed voice…

…. "That your man over there?"…

He glanced over to where she had indicated and thought to himself….

. "Why can't it ever be simple?"…

He let out a long drawn out sigh and responded with….

… "Would seem about right."….

Without another word he shouldered his way through the crowd toward…..

…. Bennett Hicks; He was in his late teens, gawky, awkward, with curly hair and a startled look on his face. The look most likely came from the fact that he'd been shoved up against and bent backwards over the bar, by a huge thug that was holding a large metal beer mug menacingly over his face.

Bennett's assailant was about a solid 6' 4" or better and a virtual slab of muscle, with extensive tattoos and facial scars. A single gold earring dangled from one of his cauliflower ears that protruded from a shaved head, that looked like it served more as a knot at the top of his spine, to keep it from unraveling, than to house any sort of "gray matter."

…"Told you, boy!.. our business is done when I say it's done!"….. the big bruiser roared, while raising his beer mug up over Bennett's face….

"Listen, I…" Hicks meekly attempted to persuade the brute from smashing his face in, with the upheld mug, when suddenly…

… "Excuse me?"…

The big thug and Hicks, the best he could, turned slightly to see Mal standing there, thumbs hooked in his belt with a big broad tight lipped, cavalier smile adorning his face.

… "Bennet Hicks?"… Mal inquired at the boy, pinned down against the bar.

He nodded slightly, or as best he could, given his present circumstances.

Mal then turned to the big baffoon and asked with a straight face…..

… "Don't you folk have any rules of conduct in this fine establishment?"…

… "Rules!… in here!"…. he roared in disbelief….

… "Oh, ok.. so no rules?"…. Mal responded, then with a slight shrug, he quickly gave the big brute a swift kick in the nuts followed by an uppercut to the face, flattening his nose, as he doubled over with his eyes bulging out.

As the big bully disappeared into the crowd, hunched over in agony and clutching his nose, Inara came up behind Mal, saying with a sigh….

… "Never a dull moment, Captain Reynolds."…

Mal ignored her, for the most part and turned to Bennett, straightening his shirt.

… "I know you?"… Hicks queried with a puzzled look..

… "Bernabe sent me. You have his package ready?"…

… "Not yet, I… uh..." Bennet dithered nervously

From the look on Mal's face it was plain to see that he was less than pleased. Inara rolled her eyes as if to say, "Now why doesn't this supprise me"

… "Well, get it ready, boy. I want to be packed up and off this rock 'fore anyone even realizes I'm here."… Mal demanded, quite forcefully.

… "There might be a problem, sir."…. Hicks responded glancing slightly in the direction that his former assailant had disappeared off to.

… "What kinda problem might that be? Bernabe told me you had a inside man, could get you everything you need."…. Mal inquired, his patience quickly coming to an end.

… "I did, Gleason."….

… "Did?"… Mal queried with, a sickening feeling forming in his gut. Before he could inquire further, to confirm what he hoped wasn't the case, Hicks saved him the trouble with….

… "I think you just broke his nose"…

… "And I think he's come back to repay the favor"… he announced, while looking past Mal and Inara.

The latter turned suddenly to be greeted by the sight of Gleason, walking a bit more upright but still clutching his nose, flanked by three of his Alliance buddies, of equal stature, bullying their way through the crowd toward them and they don't look at all happy.

As they approach, Mal's mouth drops open slightly as he whispered to himself…..

… "Zài suoyou de pēngjí kōngjiān xī yùnqì, ….why can't things ever be simple?"….


.

The "Blue Dragon's" far distant bluish white disk, burned high in the night sky, casting a faint eerie glow on the rugged rocky terrain. Burnham, the source of heat and life giving rays, to the outer planets and moons of the Quing-Long Burnham system had set behind the craggy hills surrounding Haven, along with the giant reflective orb of Deadwood.

The days on this arid little moon were hot and dusty, but the heat of the day rapidly dissipated into the black, come nightfall, due to the extremely dry climate, especially on nights such as this.

There was a pronounced chill forming in the air, as Jayne Cobb donned the very cunning looking orange wool hat, his Mother had made for him, while finishing off the rest of the evening meal and making his rounds picking off the plates, whatever leftovers the others had left behind.

Simon and Bernabe sat at one of the many folding tables. The three of them were under a huge revival type tent, expansive enough to seat nearly fifty comfortably, with strings of Japanese style lanterns, at the North end of Main Street. They were pretty much alone, as dinner had been over for sometime now and the chilly night air had motivated most others to migrate down to the South end of town, where a blazing bonfire was beckoning.

After awhile, the three of them also thought it a good idea to wander on down and join in on the festivities. It was a rare occasion to have friendly visitors on this lonely little moon, so it served as an excuse for a late night shindig. It looked as if they had planed to get all the mileage out of it as possible.

River had disappeared earlier after one of her mysterious, short cryptic speeches, that Simon had somewhat interpreted as meaning she had an urgent need to find something, what that was, he had no idea.

The people here seemed friendly enough. Bernabe had convinced him that she would be safe and it would probably be good for her to explore around a little on her own. With a bit of reluctance he finally relented. Jayne's only thought, at the time, was that he was happy that she'd be somewhere else and with any luck, she might fall down an old mine shaft somewhere.

Bernabe, Simon and Jayne strolled leisurely away from the tent, Simon and Bernabe in the lead conversing, with Jayne following a few paces behind in silence, picking his teeth.

… "I must say, Bernabe, that's one of the finest meals I've had in a long time."…. Simon complemented their host.

… "Got a garden up in the hills. Sissy Temkin stays out there most days, claims she can grow most anything."….. Bernabe explained…

… "I'm inclined to agree."… Simon returned..

As the trio continued on toward the bonfire, folks started meandering past, often offering some greeting to Bernabe, who nodded or waved in response.

… "I'm just sorry we didn't have any meat for our fine visitors."…. Bernabe lamented, in an apologetic tone.

Simon's response was just a look conveying the idea that it was fine and couldn't have been better either way, while a look of shock, suspicion and worry came over Jayne, as he bellowed out…

… "No meat! What the gorram díyú was in the stew!"…

… "Mushrooms"… Bernabe explained, with a slight shrug.

Suddenly, a rapid clomping sound was heard, followed soon after by River, much to Simon's relief and Jayne's vexation, charging in from out of the darkness.

She's now wearing her boots, as opposed to having them slung over her shoulder. The filmy "Adams Family" style gown, she was wearing earlier, had been replaced by a slightly heavier plaid, dress that hung down slightly below her knees, however only about the lower four inches of it were visible, due to the heavy oversized baggy gray sweater, she had on over it.

She rushed up to them smiling and laughing. An apple could be seen just peeking out from under the right sleeve of her ill-fitting sweater, which she deftly presented to Jayne, by practically shoving it into his face.

Jayne flinched slightly, as it was thrust toward him, while she chirped…..

…. "Here, you've been good, you can have this"….

He cautiously took the apple and glared at both it and her in distrust.

Simon glanced at his sister for a moment, but did his best to ignore the interchange, by turning back to conversation with Bernabe.

… "Mushrooms?"…

… "You'd be amazed what we can grow in spent mineshafts."… Bernabe commented with a touch of pride.

The quartet continue on toward the fire, with Bernabe and Simon engaged in congenial conversation.

Following along behind, Jayne sniffed his "gift" from River with suspicion, pulled out his knife and probed for a hidden grenade, all the while keeping a wary eye on her, as she occasionally glanced over to him with her mischievous grin.

They finally arrived at the fires edge, where dozens of folks are lounging, relaxing, and laughing. They shout greetings to Bernabe, and more than a few address the newcomers from Serenity by name.

…. "And now that suppers over, it's time for the three D's"….. Bernabe announced.

… "Three D's?"… Simon queried with a puzzled look….

… "Drinking, dancing, and dessert."… Bernabe clarified

… "Dancing?"…. River chirped excitedly

… "Drinking? And dessert?"… Jayne piped in, almost in unison with River, forgetting all about wondering why she seemed hell-bent on tormenting him and added…

… "Gotta have me some words with Mal. We never get dessert. 'cept on birthdays."…

… "Doane? A jaunty tune, if you please!"… Bernabe shouted out to one of the men in the crowd.

With that, Doane, a rather scrappy looking fellow with a miner's helmet complete with cap lamp, perched on his head, pulled out a guitar, while he made gestures to a few others. He made his way to the other side of the fire, where a makeshift stage had been set up and began to play. He was soon joined by a couple of fiddlers and a man twanging away on a Jew's Harp.

About half the crowd gravitated over to the dance area, while the rest circulated about, passing around bottles and pieces of pie.

Jayne, munching away on a piece of pie, wandered away into the crowd. Now that the Doc's crazy sister had seemed to become bored with pestering him, perhaps he could find him some "trim" before the night was over, he was hoping. It had been a long time and he was about due.

River glanced over to Simon with an imploring look and after a moment he, somewhat reluctantly, gave a nod of approval. At that, she too scampered off excitedly, through the throng of folk, toward the dancing area, leaving Simon and Bernabe alone.

… "So you're Mal's doctor, huh?"…. Bernabe inquired congenially.

… "Yes."… Simon answered in a guarded tone of voice.

… "And your sister…?"… He inquired casually.

… "Is just my sister. And a passenger. Is there any reason you need to know?"… Simon came back smartly, in a suspicious tone.

… "Just trying to make conversation, friend.".. Bernabe came back, slightly apologetically…

…."Most folks here have things they don't care to talk about. But some come here to talk about those things 'cause they ain't got nowhere else to do it. No harm meant."….

Simon accepted that, silently nodded and relaxed slightly. They stand in companionable silence for a moment or two till a passer by offers a bottle to Bernabe. He takes a swig then passes it to Simon.

"Oh, no, I couldn't."… He declines, holding his hands out in front of him

… "Sure?"… Bernabe reiterates, still holding the offered bottle out to Simon.

The laid back atmosphere was even giving Simon the urge to loosen up a bit. He looked at the bottle, looked around, as if to see if anyone was watching or not and after a moment….

… "Why not?"…

He took a little sip and looked over to Bernabe, who was just staring back at him with an expectant look. Finally Simon tilted the bottle up and took a deep draw, as Bernabe gave him an approving slap on the back.


.

Jayne wandered around through the crowd, stuffing his fourth piece of pie into his mouth with one hand and still holding his knife, with the "questionable apple" stuck on the end of it, with the other.

One of the townfolk happened by and offered him a bottle, that he hardily accepted. He washed down the last piece of pie with it and gluged down another long deep drink, as his attention was drawn to the dance area. There seemed to be quite a ruckus going on over there; he scowled down at the passer by for a moment, offered him the apple, which he took cautiously off the end of Jayne's knife and Jayne headed off toward the music to investigate…. keeping the bottle.


.

Simon, in spite of himself, was actually starting to relax and enjoy the party. He and Bernabe were now sitting on a log swapping stories and an occasional joke, when his attention was diverted to the dancing crowd, around the far side of the bonfire. It seemed as if everyone have stopped dancing and was hootin' and hollerin' while clapping in time with music, that was punctuated by an occasional whistle and "cat call." He stood up and craned his neck around, in an attempt to discern what all the commotion was about. The new relaxed and laid back Simon Tam made a quick exit, as the stone faced, pompous Dr. Tam returned from his brief sabbatical, upon discovery of the reason for all the revelry.

It was River.

She had quite an audience, most of which were men, as she danced alone in a wild high stepping "Clog Dance," in perfect time to the fast jaunty rhythm, provided by Doane's little band. From the wide beaming smile on her face, it seemed as if she was literally drinking in the attention she was getting, as she whipped her dress around, twirled and kicked her legs out to the sides, high up over her head.

The music and clapping increased in tempo, as she cavorted around the dance area with increased abandon. Twirling around to the edge of the hooting crowd, she reached out and grabbed a man's wrist, pulling him out to the middle of the so called dance dloor, where they wildly clogged around together for a moment or two. He spun her around and she reached out with her other arm, grabbed another man's hand and switched partners without missing a beat. In a frenzy of laughter and unbridled energy, she danced with a dozen or more men, in a span of just a minuet or two.

She switched partners again, but this time a slightly startled look came over her, as she found herself with…..

…. Simon…..

…. who grabbed her by the shoulders, stopping her suddenly.

… "You made the world stop spinning, Simon."… she remarked, with a shadowing of disappointment in her voice, as her normal blank expression returned.

"That's enough for tonight"….. Simon stated sternly, as he put a protective arm around her and pulled her away from the crowd, much to the chagrin of many of the men, as evidenced by a few boo's and hisses.

Her bright glowing smile returned for a moment, as she looked back over her shoulder, bidding good-by to her fans, Jayne, oddly enough, being among them.

As he escorted her toward Bernabe's home, where he had promised them all food ang lodging, until Serenity's return, the only words that were spoken where by River, with a sigh of defeat…..

…. "He didn't like the apple"….


.

Zoe and Wash stood in the cargo bay in a discussion when they noticed the captain hobbling up the ramp, with Inara and a stranger, carrying a beat up looking leather back-pack, his contact they figure, helping him along.

Mal was a sight; he had an enormous fat lip, one entire side of face was all puffy looking and turning a dark shade of purple, with an eye nearly swollen shut. Dried blood, obviously his own, caked whatever part of his visage that wasn't bruised and battered, along with the entire front of his shirt, as he winced in agony with every step.

… "Pack up! We're leavin'!"…. Mal announced forcefully, or as best he could, in a pained, mush mouthed voice, with a slight nasal tone.

… "What happened, sir?"…. Zoe inquired with a deadpan look

… "I don't see any cargo. Should there be cargo?"…. Wash further inquired.

… "Ain't no cargo. Just a whole lotta hurt."….. Mal responded, wincing with every word.

…. "Captain…." …. Hicks started to say

…. "Wash, I want us out of this world. Now."…. The Captain commanded, cutting off and ignoring Hicks.

…. "Captain Reynolds…." Hicks tried again, this time being cut off by Zoe…..

…. "What about the job?"….

…. "We ain't got one. Boy here don't have the goods ready, and I ain't about to sit around waitin' to get nabbed by the local authorities. Who are awful unfriendly, I might add."…. Mal explained….

…. "Captain, this don't change nothin'."… Hicks pointed out, finally getting a word in.

…. "Other'n my urgent need to get to my personal doctor to see to it that my nose grows back at a more appealin' angle!"….. Mal exclaimed back, with an incredulous look, trying to peek through his battered features. He waves slightly in Inara's direction and continues on with….

…. "Sides, I got a passenger needs to get to New Melbour…."

…. " Mal!"…. Inara cuts him off, then glances around to Wash and Zoe uncomfortably, before putting on a smile that is obviously contrived.

…. "We're going to New Melbourne?"…. Wash queries with a stupid look on his face, turns to Zoe and continues on, a little more dramatically….

…. "Did you know we were going to New Melbourne?"….

….. of which Zoe's response was to just stare back with her arms crossed, giving him a "shush stupid" look, with Inara stating emphatically, while trying her best to maintain her composure….

…. "We're not going to New Melbourne!"….

There's an awkward silence for a moment. Zoe and Wash weren't sure, although Zoe had her suspicions, what that was all about. Inara just smiled uncomfortably, with a smile that was far from her professional standards of believability.

Hicks took advantage of the uncomfortable silence, to make a final plea…

…. "I swear, Captain. You still have a job. If you want it."…..


.

Jayne would have much preferred to have stayed out a little longer, but after Simon had essentially "pooped the party," most all of the menfolk had drifted on home and it was then that he realized that Haven had a severe shortage of available womenfolk…. like none at all.

That being what it was, he made his way back to Bernabe's place for the night. Still hungry upon entry, he propped Vera up against a large overstuffed chair, in the living room and headed for the kitchen, in search of a late night snack. He returned shortly, with a "Fruity-Oat-Bar" in his mouth and the opened box in his hand.

It was a small but comfortable room, the only furnishings being four rather worn, but likewise comfortable chairs and a floor lamp. As he made his way over to the chair that Vera was leaning against, he shoved another over closer to it, plopped down in the former while propping his feet up on the latter, leaned back and munched away thoughtfully on another oat bar.

His thoughts drifted back to when River was dancing around the bonfire, the way she moved, the energy she had and he had to admit to himself, that while the little freak was loonier than a Beylixian Ice Snake and about as much fun as an ulcerated molar, she wasn't too bad to look at….. from a safe distance…..

….. "What a gorram waste"…. He thought to himself...


.

Simon had just finished administering a sedative to River to help her sleep, in the room Bernabe had provided for them. It, like the living room, was small, but had a good sized comfortable bed for River and a small cot for himself set up in the corner. He didn't really care for the idea of sharing a room with his sister, as they were a little too old for that, but as long as they had separate sleeping arrangements and she slept in a gown, while he remained clothed, he figured it would be acceptable. Also, as the only other option was to sleep in the living room with Jayne, it would have to do.

He felt bad that he had to interrupt her fun earlier, as there had only been a few other times, since their joining up with the crew of Serenity, that he had seen her as happy and full of joy. Had he let it continue, however, he was sure that it would have, sooner or late, developed into something serious, that she would not be able to deal with and most likely sooner than later.

She just loved to dance and as innocent as she was, he was certain that she had no idea of the mental images, passions and desires she was stirring up, in a mob of liquored-up Rim World miners.

He was further saddened, as he watched her drift of to sleep, when he realized that even if he could find away to make her nightmares go away, that she would still be and probably always would be, severely mentally handicapped. There was little or nothing he or anyone else could do about that. Her brain had been surgically altered at the Academy, lobotomized essentially, which was irreversible.

He knew that she would always need him. Even if they weren't on top of the ten most wanted list, he knew that neither of them could ever have a normal life. She would be forever denied the simple pleasures of that "first crush," "first kiss," that most girls her age had already experienced. Never would she be able to simply settle down with some future "Mister Wonderful" and raise a family of her own, or even use her vast intellect to start out on some rewarding career, or be productive in any way.

Likewise, as a result, there was so much that would be denied to him, she would always be his ward; a burden and when he was perfectly honest with himself, he did at times resent it, even though he knew it wasn't right. Be that as it may, however, he would always be there for her, in spite of himself.

He looked down at River sleeping peacefully and wondered what they both could have aspired to, had things been different. He would have probably been on his way to being chief surgeon at the finest hospital back on Osiris. River, most likely would have been well on her way to being a "cutting edge" research scientist, perhaps even secured a position with the Blue Sun corp. with their research and development team, maybe even CEO eventually. How proud he could have been of her.

Leaning down he ran his fingers through her hair a few times, tucked her in and gave her a little kiss on her forehead….

…. "Goodnight mei-mei"…. he whispered, slightly over a breath and the only thing he could think of was…..

….. "What a gorram waste"….

Quietly shutting the door to their room behind him, Simon walked down the hallway toward the living room, deep in pensive thought. The party outside seemed to have died down and he no longer had a stomach for it anyway. He didn't want to risk disturbing River, by being in the room with her, until he was certain she was deep asleep, so there wasn't much to do, other than just lounge around in the main room, until he was sleepy.

Upon entering the living room, he noticed, much to his displeasure, that Jayne was already back as well. He could tell that their resident ape-man was a firm believer in taking full advantage of someone's hospitality, as he had rearranged the furniture more to his liking, lounging back in one of the chairs with his feet propped up on the back of another. One hand was stuffed into a box of Fruity Oat Bars while he munched away with an occasional crumb falling out of his mouth. A little pile of spent wrappers was growing on an arm of the chair he was sitting in.

His first thought was to simply slip outside and find some quite peaceful spot to be by himself and just think about things for awhile, but the thought of leaving River alone, under the same roof with Jayne, who probably had God only knows what on his mind, was totally unacceptable.

As he stepped through the door, he mentally braced himself for one of Jayne's inane comments, which he figured was quickly forthcoming, as he made his way to a chair, that was as far away from the big goon as the tiny confines of the room would allow.

Jayne did not disappoint.

No sooner had Simon settled into a chair….

…. "Awful nice of Bernabe to put us up for the night. 'Specially after the way you pissed all prissy-like on the town bonfire."….

…. "She was drawing too much attention."…. Simon responded flatly, his chin resting on folded hands, staring straight ahead, trying his best to maintain his cool.

Jayne stuffed another oat bar into his mouth, before he had even swallowed the rest of the previous one, sending a little avalanche of crumbs down his goatee and queried….

…. "That it, Doc? Or was she just drawin' a kind of attention you don't like?"…..

Simon remained silent, but by the expression on his face it was plain that his patience was wearing thin, as Jayne went on….

…. "She's your sister and all, and, sure, she's crazy as a moon-faced wolf pup in heat…."

Simon, his patience quickly coming to an end, raised his head up from his hands, glared over to Jayne and cut him off with…..

…. "Is this supposed to be helping in some way?"…..

…. "Look, Doc, you an' me, we know she's crazy, but to lots of other folks, she's just a girl."…..

While Jayne's last comment was hardly relevant to the situation, as that was precisely the thing that he had been concerned about, it didn't really offend him. Perhaps he had misjudged him?…Was he maybe, in his simple minded Cro-Magnon way, just trying to be helpful? he thought for a fleeting moment….. until…..

…. "An' she certainly ain't ill-formed, if you know what I'm sayin'."….. Jayne went on to say, while stuffing the last oaty bar into his mouth.

If looks could kill, not only would have Jayne be dead, but he wouldn't have even been born, nor would his progenitors, back for about the last three generations.

…. "That's my sister you're talking about!"…. Simon spat, as he bolted up from his chair, looking like he was about half a click from taking a swing at him.

Jayne just grinned, well pleased with himself for getting the good Doctor's shorts in a bind, as he crumpled up the now empty "Fruity Oat Bar" box. Then his face lit up, as if hit by a sudden inspiration, before delivering the Coup de Grace….

…."Hey Doc… maybe you should make sure more folks know she's your sister. Tha'd be reason an'a half for a man to wanna stay away."….